Sunday, December 31, 2006
Friday, December 29, 2006
Thanks to a bad start, I was in about 60th going around the first tun into the single-file path layered in both sand AND mud. A couple of minutes later, i was amidst a gaggle of women hitting the marathon mud pit section - an open area completely covered in 1-1 1/2 feet of soupy, slimy, sticky mud. Looking around as i barely trackstood with all my might, I felt like i was in a slow-motion video except the crowds were yelling in fast forward! To give you a better idea of what this mud pit really looked like, it was perfectly set up for another kind of movie that would have also involved muddy women in lycra surrounded by hoards of men drinking stella and smoking cigarettes. By race end, i was only able to manage a 27th.
After the race, fellow racer Sharon of Team Flanders and i hurried back to a garage that one of the residents in the neighborhood lent us. We stripped all our clothes off only to find that we now were wearing complete brown suits made of mud! Two showers later and I am STILL removing mud and sand from my eyes, ears, and hair!
I stuck around for a few minutes to watch the guys. I saw Jonathan Page in about 15th or so (although results show him as dnf - bike mechanical?), then ryan trebon in about 20, and rather close behind was jeremy powers, Barry wicks, erik tonkin, troy wells. Molly cameron was a bit off the back, but still riding strong! I would guess this is his first time racing in europe. After a couple more of these events, he should get the hang of it and start kicking some euro poop (this is the phonetic spelling of butt. i wonder if this is how it's spelled!)
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
Her site is one big stream-of-consciousness, which is just as amusing as some of her choice quotes she's provided to the media at cyclo-cross events, post-race of course!
Let me know what you think of her site.
Tuesday, December 26, 2006
The first bad news is that I ran out of trading cards. I always forget what it's like to race cyclo-cross in Belgium. People form a line in front of you to ask for your card. And once others see that you are giving out these cards, they want one too. And of course they all want one for their friends and family who couldn't make it to the event. I also flaked on pre-signing them so i spent quite a few minutes autographing them while they waited. I bitch about it but in reality i think it is just too cool that cyclo-cross racers rank just as high as baseball players in USA. AND that they would want a trading card from a woman is even another level higher on the super-cool scale! It's just funny to compare my trading card experience to the one i had in USA last week where i had to beg people to take a card from me - most of which were probably filed in the circular cabinet shortly thereafter.
In two days, i have to show up at Azencross (a Category 1 event in Belgium) sans cards. It will be like showing up to a Schoolgirl fetish party (in those tiny little skirts) without bloomers! Luckily i still have some old velo bella ones. Maybe nobody will notice that the outfits don't match.
Now for the even worse news. Gun goes off and i turn the first corner in 30th. Two seconds later, i'm behind a pileup midway up a dirt climb. But i stayed cool and eventually climbed up to 15th. All was fine until half way through the race I endo'd in a sand section. The sand was about 1 1/2 feet high and lasted an eternity. I went to scoot backwards on the saddle to let the front wheel go where it wanted but my skinsuit got caught on the saddle. Once i hit a thick spot in the sand, game over. I went flying into the air and landed head first into the sand. I quickly put my hands over my face to protect it from my lagging bike about to topple me. Bam! That hurt. As i made sand-angels, about 10 gals passed. THree pedals strokes later, I passed the pit entrance. Oh no. bike won't shift. great. I rode my heart out on an undergeared bike to the next pit. Grabbed the backup bike. THen grabbed the first bike. Still won't shift. Grabbed backup bike. Race over and i placed 25th.
My pit crew was even bigger and better today, though! I had Serge, Christophe, Renatta and their sister's kids (hannah and her little brother.) They worked hard to get me ready to go and to undo all the damage i was accumulating during the race!
Ok. Happy ending. On the way out of the venue, Serge and I were caught in some standstill traffic due to 50,000 fans trying to evacuate the race site. As we were "parked" we looked over to see a car full of guys drinking out of a little tin flask. So we both raised our drinks, mine a Mill Valley Cycleworks polka dot water bottle, and Serge a Coca Cola (which does NOT contain High Fructose Corn Syrup here in the EU) and yelled "Skul" (=cheers in USA). After a few exchanges of words, one of the guys gets out and hands me the flask, so of course i took a swig (making sure of course not to touch my lips on the opening for fear of getting sick!) Mmmmm...Jeniver - tastes like apple. (jeniver is a very popular hard liquor enjoyed mostly in winter and often served at cyclo-cross races.) After one swig of that, I was HAPPY!
On the way home, we stopped off at a grocery store around the block from me. It is similar to USA's Costco with the large item sizes and low prices but 1/50th the size! OK, i ASSUME it is like Costco, but i've only attempted to go into a costco once. My friend and i visited costco to get a digital camera that was on sale there. But when we entered the joint, our first vision was of a 400 pound woman carting around a mayonaise jar that weighed as much as ME! We were out of there lickety-split - actually we left QUICKER than you can say that word!
Anyway, at our version of Costco, i got fifty million gallons of water so i am never tempted to drink tap water again!
On another note: I stuck around to watch the guys race and it was well worth it! Erwin Vervecken won after attacking the group of 8 on the last lap. He countered Sven Nys' move! On the USA front, Ryan Trebon got a great start, hanging in 15th or so but eventually faded a bit. Jonathan Page had the opposite ride. After getting called up THIRD to LAST due to almost no UCI points, he fought his way up to the front, passing ryan on the way and finished maybe somewhere top 20 or so. He had a huge grin on his face every lap!
Urbanis (erik tonkin) also had a good ride. Barry wicks and Jeremy Powers had that look of pain on their faces but rode hard nonetheless!
Monday, December 25, 2006
Later that night i found out that this building has some odd tradition of leaving random wrapped items in front of each other's doors on holidays as an act of kindness. I'm still not removing the apple from the garbage. Zot! ('weird' in Flemish.)
Today i woke up with just a slight tummy pain. Whatever I ate finally made its way out of my system. I spent the day recovering nonetheless. Went for a ride on the trainer while watching French News on the television - i think James Brown died.
Then i washed my wheels in the sink and took the rest of the bike parts downstairs to finish the job with the fire hose.
My friends hilde and mark drove me to registration in the evening to pick up my race numbers for tomorrow's world cup since the race is only twenty minutes from my home - assuming you drive 160kph weaving in and out of the cars as they do here. Numbers were delayed so Geoff Proctor, US coach of the beloften and jrs, came to my rescue, offering to bring the numbers to the race tomorrow so i wouldn't have to sit around in a small food hall waiting to get them.
In preparation for tomorrow's race, I had oversized bowls of salad and pasta for dinner and a ProBar for dessert - yum!
Sunday, December 24, 2006
I was smart to wear an undershirt to ward off sub-freezing temps BUT opted not to race with my Specialized optics - big mistake. My eyes froze open. For the first two minutes, my eyes teared waterfalls, then in one fell swoop, it froze over! I couldn't even blink, nor could i see clearly. Everything turned into a monet painting, making it even harder to pass the one slow gal who had a great start off the front but didn't have the strength to follow through for the whole race. Once i got past her, it was game over. i made it to 11th place. I guess my food/water poisining didn't help much either! I spent the rest of the afternoon doubled over, unable to stand up straight!
In hindsight, I know how i got sick. It surely was the rancid double boiled tap water from the kettle. As i poured the water onto my oats and coffee, I knew something was amiss. But with a LOT of vanilla extract and almond powder, I was able to get both the oats and coffee down...at least for a day!
The best part of the day was watching my pit crew in action! Serge drove me there and took care of my trainer, bikes, wheels, etc while his twin brother christophe helped out in the pit and renatta held my clothes, water, etc and kept me "rustig" (calm.)
Saturday, December 23, 2006
Once bundled in everything i own, I walked my bike down the three flights of stairs. First trip was over to the building's pile of Belgian Government issued oversized brown garbage bags. Since i still have not figured out where to buy these apparently overpriced bags, I sneak my tiny plastic bags into one of the less stuffed brown bags!
As i rode my bike down the road towards the Leuven ring on my way to the Heverlee woods for a little dirt training, I made the mistake of looking up into the sky. The sky was so thick i swear I was witnessing the moisture in the air crystallize before my very eyes - putting the temperature somewhere between 0 degrees C (33ishF) and beyond butt-cold! "It is better to suffer in the training, it is better to suffer in the training..."
Once into the woods, i warmed up a bit - ok, well once the intervals began. The course i have laid out starts off on a paved cycle path parallel to the , then cuts into the woods onto a long fireroad. After a bit of riding, I turn left onto yet another rolling fire road, then right into a singletrack that connects with a mini bmx-style circuit. Once out of the circuit, back on a fire road, then another, off and on at the top to simulate barriers. At top of mini gradual hill, I make a right into a tight singletrack trail made even tighter by the mud bogs i meticulously avoid, and back to pavement. Each lap is about six minutes. Oh, and the walkers, hikers, dogs, kids, runners, cyclists act as pack fodder to help simulate a race course.
By the way, a few days ago i experienced the coldest night ever while under ten blankets! Well, it turned out that my apartment is still warm at night. I apparently had a quickie flu! Thanks to my vegan diet, it only lasted 10 hours instead of 10 days!!! I may have caught it from Melissa Thomas whom i ran into at the Dulles Airport monday. She was very ill with flu - she even lost eight pounds from it! ugh! With that said, i am no longer in urgent need for a boyfriend for bodyheat - hahahahaha!
I leave tomorrow at 8:30am for Netherlands 1 1/2 hrs drive. Then i get to spend christmas pre-riding the Hofstade World Cup that is held the next day! What a way to spend the holidays!
Have a great holiday season!!!
Thursday, December 21, 2006
Thanks for all your well wishes and for praying to the selection gods for me! it worked!
Now onto more tales of living in belgium. It's cold here! Not just during the day but at night too! I found out the hard way last night that the heat turns off at 11pm! I have never been so cold in bed in my life!! Normally i'm perfectly ok being single, but last night from about 12am to 5am, I was wishing i had a boyfriend to use him for his warmth!! Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!!! Tonight i will borrow more blankets from my neighbors. Maybe i'll shop for a used electric blanket. I will balance out the damage the electrical current will do on my body with my vegan diet. Maybe i'll skip it.
Well, it's almost 10pm. Off to friesland!
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
Anyway, back to racing. The nationals course was dry and fast with three runups, two of which were pretty long with steps and barriers. The third also had steps but wasn’t as long.
Before the race, I asked a few of my friends to yell encouraging words to me, namely sentiments like, “feel the pain” and “it’s only pain!” I have never really experienced true racing pain in my whole career due to a pact I made with myself at the beginning of my racing career. I told myself that I’d like to see just how far I can go in this sport without feeling an excess amount of pain. Well, last week I decided to ditch that idea to see what happens. Nationals was to be my first attempt at feeling the pain.
I was lucky to have a front row callup based on UCI points, but the start of the event was violent nonetheless. From the gun, the pace was screaming fast. I stayed calm and came around the first turn onto the dirt somewhere in top 10. I spent the next few minutes focusing on moving up...rather successfully I might add. Eventually, my plans were foiled by the run-ups! I worked as hard as I could on the sections I knew I could gain time in hopes that I wouldn’t lose too much on the runups. I finished in 7th.
Finishing in front of me were Katie Compton in 1st, Georgia Gould 2nd, Dierdre Winfield and Kerri Bernhart (worked together) in 3rd/4th, Ann Knapp and Rhonda Mazza (worked together) in 5th/6th. My friend Mandy Lozano of Cheerwine had a spectacular race to finish in top 10, beating out some really big names. She was in 6th place for a good portion of the race before fading towards the end.
By the way, all the “feel the pain” screams helped a lot! I told so many people (or maybe they told others) that it seemed as though all I heard throughout the course was “pain” “pain” “pain”! I even had my host housing family members Erin and 6-yr old daughter Kailey yelling it! hahaha. Yes, I felt the pain. I didn’t back off of the effort as much as I usually do thanks to chants!
Obviously I would have loved to finish better, but I’m not too surprised by my result. I started cyclo-cross training late in the year due to a full European road season, which would bring my fitness to a peak for the final world cups and world champs. The only drawback to this plan is that a lot of weight is given to the US National Championship race. I will find out tonight if I made the US National Team. Please cross your fingers!
After the race, I went to the post-event party with Sami Fournier, her husband John, a U-23 rider named Scott and their host housing family, mel and Nate. There was an oval bar on one side of the room and three pool tables on the other. Some partygoers whom I recognized were Ryan Trebon, Mandy Lozano, Georgia Gould, Sarah Kerlin, Erin Kassoy, Henry Kramer, Ben and Andy Jacques-maynes, Jordy (forgot his last name), Josie Beggs, and a bunch of other folks. In general, the party was rather subdued. After a bunch of people watching and idle conversation, we left. Oh, I also talked to Jay, the author of the cyclo-cross blog, http://sufferingcyclocross.blogspot.com. His site is a lot of fun for cyclo-cross fans!
After a good night’s sleep of three hours since I had to pack the bikes all night, I almost welcomed the 6-hour layover I had at
Today was my first real training ride. (yesterday, I just tootled about and went thrift store shopping to buy trinkets for my new place – like dishes, can opener, tea kettle, etc.) Five minutes into my ride, I stood at the Leuven Ring waiting for the light to change. As I glanced across the road, I noticed my reflection landed smack between two guys in dark suits sitting at their desks. For a brief moment, I thought how I’d love to actually be there since it was about 1 degree Celsius outside. But then I thought how miserable I’d be if I had to resign myself to a desk job. Once the light changed, I followed my cold breath across the road and carried on with the job at hand – intervals along the canal.
Before I started my intervals, I was passed by Kathleen Stercx, a fellow pro cyclist. She currently races for
That’s all for now. Thanks for reading and thanks for all your emails and postings of support! It means a lot.
Saturday, December 16, 2006
Eventually the stars poured into the room - jonathan page (who looks like he's recovered from his shoulder crash that required surgery earlier in the season), ryan trebon (aka tree farm due to his super tall lanky build), tim johnson, marc gullicson, todd wells (current national champ), matt white, jonathan baker, barry wicks, and a bunch of others. On the womens side, I saw mandy lozano, dierdre winfield, josie beggs, rebecca wellons, and a few others.
We finally sat down at a table with Jonathan and his family, Frankie (fellow belgian and former manager of Navigators team who flew from belgium to support JP), Curtis - Geoff's teammate and a couple other folks. Within two seconds of getting comfy in my seat, I had three bare ass photos spread out in front of me. They were of women's asses - all of them had road rash. I was told to choose which one was sexiest. Of course i did what anyone would do in this awkward situation - I chose one.
Moments later, they started the presentation. Since i was # 1 on the charts due to uci points, I was last to get interrogated by the oversized microphone and blinding camera lights. I normally am a talkahaulic until I'm put in these situations. And to make matters worse, the acoustics in the place were so bad that I didn't really hear any of the questions posed. But it didn't matter because i don't think anyone heard my answers either. I stood up there in the spotlight for at least an hour - OK, well maybe it was only five minutes but it was long enough for me to feel the beads of sweat making their way down the middle of my chest, filling my belly button.
Once it was over, I went back to my custom meal - plain pasta with tomato sauce and a loaf of bread. I brought my own habaneros.
I was glad i attended. It's always fun to see cyclists in real people clothes. Although the styles varied quite a bit from very formal to hip hop, you could still tell they were a bunch of cyclists because they all looked so comically thin. After the food was gone I left.
Friday, December 15, 2006
There were a couple of tricky turns that i worked on a few times. But other than that, it's straightforward. It was fun to pre-ride with a few hundred people on the course. It somewhat simulated traffic congestion in a real race, save for a few elbows thrown my way.
The race starts at the bottom of a gradual paved uphill, which should slightly thin out the field - just in time for the deathtrap transition onto the dirt. We make a right turn up a concrete curb and onto the grass. They "installed" a pseudo ramp which doesn't really make the transition any safer. I expect carnage at this spot. Note to self: must be in front going over the ramp. I just found out today that i will be called up 2nd to the start line (katie comption - current national champ) is called up first. So at least with a front row starting position, my chances are increased that I'll make it to the dangerous curb in the front group. But it will still require a lot of self-inflicted pain to make it happen!
For anyone watching the event, my race number is 202 - you know, just in case you can't spot me in the Wonder Bread-themed Lotto-Belisol kit.
That's all for the moment.
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
Luckily, I have Geoff and his family to keep my mind off of myself. Today Kailey and I joined Geoff on his journey to find Welly's (aka Wellington's - waterproof boots) that he can use to help build the race course tomorrow. Unfortunately the only place they were sold were in WalMart. I've heard of these stores through the Bowling for Columbine movie, so i was a bit apprehensive. When i turned to Geoff for support, I noticed that he was just as apprehensive. It seems he was dreading the trip just as much as I! But in we went, looking to 6-yr old kailey for amusement in such a dark time. We got the boots and were out the exit in record time.
At dinner, I learned just how quickly kids pick up words. After I said "what's up, chicken butt" to Kailey a couple of times, little Lindsay started saying Chicken Butt Chicken Butt, Chicken Butt. Of course we all laughed. Once she saw that chicken butt got her attention, she repeated it about 100 more times! Yes, i apologized profusely to Geoff and Erin for being a bad influence. I do have to admit, though, it was very entertaining to see a little 1 1/2 yr old girl say Chicken Butt.
FYI: Dinner tonight was splendid vegan soup - sweet potato, ginger, carrot, squash, parsley, I forget the rest. But if you go to gewilli.blogspot.com he listed the recipe a few days back.
Monday, December 11, 2006
Then it was on to Rhode Island to attend a couple of UCI International events to help get me back into race mode. And that's exactly what they did - shocked my system.
I was very motivated for Saturday's race (W.E. Stedman Grand Prix in South Kingstown) but my bikes were still recovering from all the flying. One wouldn't shift in the rear while the other had a skipping chain. Within a couple of minutes I was relegated from 2nd to 6th position. Most of the race i traded spots with 5th place. Every time I'd go into the pit to try my luck with the other bike, she'd gap me. I finally passed her with two to go and held on for 5th.
Sunday's race (Caster's Grand Prix) was almost a repeat of the previous race. But this time around my bikes were ready to go while my body was MIA. I knew it was going to be a tough fourty minutes when i was fighting the urge to take a cat nap on the handlebars at the start. I have a feeling i'm still on Belgian time! Again, i came in 5th - a little over a minute back again from Canadian superstar Lyne bessette. AND again, 3rd and 4th place (including vegetarian Mo bruno) were about 20 seconds in front of me, serving as a teaser throughout the race.
On a side note, Lyne Bessette and Tim Johnson parked next to us for sunday's race so I was able to meet their new addition to the family, a 9-month old chocolate lab named Vitesse. Great name! I'm normally not a dog person, but she was adorable and wasn't noisome like most dogs!
I'm staying with a fabulous host housing in Riverside, Rhode Island. Geoff Williams (a fellow cross racer), Erin his wife and kids Kailey (6) and lindsay (2) have been a great support to me. They have done everything from retrieving me at the airport, cooking me vegan meals and even giving me full support at the races! I even have my own bedroom!
I'm now off to gluing tubulars in preparation for US National Championships this weekend. We live about 20 minutes from the race - yipee! I will try and pre-ride some time this week. I expect it won't be a mudfest as it was last year.
Thanks for reading.
Tuesday, December 5, 2006
As I surmised, it got even worse. I got my ass kicked by flying penguins, upright warriors, and downward dogs. The instructor was really supportive, though. She spent a bit of time trying to move my body parts into their theoretically assumed position. Not a pretty sight. When i told her that i am just not flexible outside of the physical bicycle-riding range, she disagreed. Her rebuttal was that I am very flexible, I just need to put my bones in the right position. Was I motivated by that? hahahaha. Was it sweet of her to share that sentiment? yes.
I was invited to class by two fellow cyclists Janelle Kellman and Katharine Carroll (her blog is http://katcarroll.blogspot.com/ for some fun reading). As i suffered through each move, they performed them with ease. They told me they too suffered at first. Hard to believe considering how nicely they transitioned from one pose to another!
We ended the session with a lie-down. After the instructor tucked us in with thick warm blankets, she dimmed the lights and left the room for about ten minutes. I was so exhausted from all the straining for the past hour combined with overload training AND living on belgium time, that I just wanted to sleep. But every time I started to doze off, the guy next to me beat me to it; his half-sleeping stuttering snores jarred me out of my trip to dreamland.
Although it will be many months before i attempt another session, I do look forward to giving it a go again. At least next time around I will know what to expect. Maybe I'll take along a neophyte to make me look good - preferably another cyclist! Too bad it is probably in poor taste to bring a camera!
The highlight of the evening was the post-event celebration of a Punjabi burrito and a tasty glass of red wine courtesy of my roommate Don.
Thanks for reading.
Saturday, December 2, 2006
I did it!!! I actually have my own place in
The next morning, Serge collected me and we drove four hours north to Gieten (NED) for yet another Superprestige. Every time I drive through
That afternoon, I pre-rode the course with fellow racer, Suzie Godart of
Anyway, back to breakfast. As I was sipping coffee, Bart asked Serge in Flemish if I was that American woman (immediately I’m thinking, “wow, it’s so cool that bart knows who I am!”) who missed the start at Treviso World Cup. My heart sank. I turned to bart to let him know that i had finally forgotten the whole debacle only yesterday! As I got up to leave, I told bart that must get going so I can be on time. Everyone laughed. I better make the start!
My confidence was high for the race up until about three seconds into the start. I went to pull up on the pedal only to realize I wasn’t clipped in. As the bike wobbled, I bumped a DBS gal who went crashing into the barriers. I felt awful…so awful that I slowed down. The moral dilemma – do I stay or do I go? As the hoards of gals passed (ok, well only about 40), I finally chose to continue. (I did find her after the race to apologize profusely. She suffered only a dirty jersey.)
After about 45 minutes, I crossed the finish line expecting the race to be over. But no Marianne Vos in sight. Usually she’s standing on the sidelines doing her post-race interviews by the time i cross the line. Uh-oh, better get going – the race isn’t over! Again, I slowed down as I crossed the finish line but STILL no sign of Vos. Shoot – must keep riding. Maybe I’m missing something. Finally after one more lap - 55 minutes into the race, I spot her. The race is over. Five minutes later, my legs are on fire – glad I used the heating oil to prevent my legs from getting cold AFTER the race. Ugh. Once i started eating my post-race meal of a ProBar and a few Belgian renditions of pbj (jam with Belgian chocolate spread), i forgot all about my flaming legs. Oh, i placed 11th.
Our original plan was to head home immediately after the last race, but that was not to be. We found out at the last second that Joachim Parbo - danish nat'l champ - had no support. It was worth it to see my favorites racing for the last time before I head back to USA for three weeks. I got to yell at Sven Nijs, Bart Wellons, and obviously Joachim. I ran into Sven earlier in the day at Inscription (registration). I am happy to note that he fully remembers me even though we have only said hello in passing over the years. I originally met him on that same Bart-Wellens-Italy-Belgium flight. I sat next to him and the team doctor and we chatted the whole flight. (yes, i am aware that i am name-dropping, but you must admit he is the BEST name to drop in the world of cyclo-cross (or Veldrijden as it is called in dutch - pronounced VELDraiden.)
The next day, I ran a bunch of errands to prepare for tomorrow's departure to USA for three weeks. (1 week in CA and 2 in Rhode Island.) Packing took the rest of the day. At about 7:30pm, it was time to start cooking for my housewarming party that was to start at 8pm.
As i laid the food on the counter, i quickly realized that I was not still not ready for company!
Thankfully all my guests anticipated my situation and came armed with chairs, bowls, cutting boards, utensils, plates and even candles to liven up the joint. Their show of support was incredible.
The most intriguing part of the evening was observing the flow of conversation amongst the guests. Since there were a mixture of nationalities present - belgian, lithuanian, swiss, mexican, and me - the conversation went back and forth between flemish and english. When a topic was initiated in flemish, all responses would be in flemish until someone responded in english. At that point, the conversation would seamlessly switch to english until the next flemish response. I've never witnessed anything like it outside of Belgium. On a side note, do NOT expect this type of linguistic prowess to be found in the french-speaking sections of belgium where they typically speak nothing but french.
I am now back in Mill Valley, California - two towns north of San Francisco - on the other side of the infamous Golden Gate Bridge. When i am in California, I live with my friend Don whose house is part way up a mountain. The road leading to it is 12-23% grade for about 6 minutes on bike. It may not be the best way to end a ride, but it surely helps to work on power climbing!
Thanks for reading and for all the fabulous emails!! It's comforting to know that I'm joined by others on my journey - even if it's just vicariously through emails and posts!